I received this question from Sean over in England the other day and it’s a great one on slow vs. fast training.
“Hi Logan. You said in a post before that it is better to lift quickly to develop strength and power. Is this the same with exercises like pushups and squats. The Convict Conditioning book recommends a 2/1/2 second exercises. Another guy recommends taking 4 seconds in the lift and lower phases. I’ve even heard that this 4/4 phase supposedly increases growth hormone by 4,000%!! What would you recommend for bodyweight exercises? BTW. My laziness causes me to hate these slow reps! “
First off there is no difference in what sort of weights you use. Whether a barbell, kettlebell or your bodyweight, it’s merely resistance to your muscles. For this reason there isn’t any difference in how you use one resistance versus another.
There are many people who would argue on both sides of this argument, training slow or fast. I am of the opinion that you should primarily exercise quickly. Fast if not fast as possible in many cases.
There are certain exercises that must be done quickly or they can’t be done. Olympic lifts, the ballistics with kettlebells, various kinds of jumps and more. In this case the answer must be fast. No way around it.
Then there are all the exercises that can be slow or fast. Some call these grinds. Press, pushup, squat, deadlift, curl, pullup etc.
The ideas behind lifting fast:
- You become what you train. Want to be explosive and fast? Then train that way.
- You’re going to be able to do more (weight or reps) by lifting quickly rather than artificially limiting yourself by going slow. In general that is exactly what we’re seeking to do.
- Even with a heavy weight, you seek to lift it as fast as possible. If it is near your limit, this may be slow, but you are attempting to go as fast as possible.
- Just because you are going fast doesn’t necessarily mean you are bouncing the weight, using momentum or anything that may take away from the movement. It can still be strict and fast. Although you can sacrifice form and strictness for speed which many people do.
The ideas behind lifting slow:
- Its safer. Without bouncing or momentum, that is change of direction at speed, you’re less likely to hurt yourself.
- It takes more strength to lift a weight slowly than quickly. A person that can do a single handstand pushup at full speed is not as strong in the movement as someone who can lower under a four count and raise up at the same.
- It takes more control. While this is tied in to the point above, by going slow you may activate more of the surrounding musculature as it seeks to stabilize. There is no cheating by swinging into any movement.
Whether you train slow or fast, if you know of any main points I missed, feel free to share them below.
As far as the growth hormone claim I find that dubious. Does lifting in a 3/2 pattern only release 2666.67% growth hormone? Is the 4/4 really optimal? I’d like to see how they came to that number. On the flip side I’ve seen numerous studies pointing out how hill sprints and other intense anabolic exercise shoot up growth hormone. Care to try hill sprints with a 4 second eccentric and concentric phase? That would look funny.
For the reasons above I think lifting fast in general is better. Lifting slow can be mixed in every once in awhile to work your body in a different way. It’s also great for displaying the strength you have. But in general I don’t believe you should always train that way. This is regardless of what sort of exercises you do, bodyweight or iron weights.
I think you can do the programs found in Convict Conditioning with a fast tempo and make the same if not better progress. You may want to mix it up from time to time, and test yourself against the benchmarks laid out in the book in a slow manner.
P.S. We’ll be talking more about fast training and some recent experiments on next week’s call with Adam Glass. Have you joined us on Super Human Training?